We noted previously that the tabernacle is a portable Mt. Sinai, but Mt. Sinai and the tabernacle are also miniatures of the whole universe (Heaven-Sky-Earth-Sea) created in Genesis 1. The chapters we consider today finish and organize the instructions for the tabernacle in 7 speeches meant to illustrate and emphasize how big God’s plan of redemption is.
Golden Altar of Incense (finishing Day 1)
The altar of incense is golden which means that it is associated with the Most Holy Place (30:3). It is placed in the Holy Place directly in front of the veil of the Most Holy Place (30:6). Nothing else goes on this altar except for “sweet incense” every morning (30:7), and once a year on the Day of Atonement, blood is smeared on its horns “to make atonement for it” (30:10). Chapters 25-30:10 are “day one” of this new creation. The tabernacle is the light of the new world; the tabernacle is what separates the Day of Israel from the Night of the nations.
Census and Atonement (Day 2)
“Day two” is the provision for the people to protect them from the plague when a census is taken (30:12). The obvious implication is that if they took a census without this “atonement offering” they would be struck by a plague. Remember that the story of the Exodus as a great battle between the “hosts” of Israel (Ex. 6:26, 7:4, 12:17, 41, 51) and the fortress-strength of Pharaoh (14:4, 9, 17, 24, 28). There, at the Passover, blood covered the armies of Israel. This whole provision has to do with reckoning strength/security (cf. 2 Sam. 24). The second day of creation concerned the firmament that separated the waters above from the waters below; it has to do with how heaven and earth are joined and relate (e.g. 2 Kgs. 6:8-17ff).
Laver of Cleansing (Day 3)
“Day three” of the original creation week was the gathering the waters together into one place to create dry ground and the seas. Here in the new world of the tabernacle we have the waters gathered into a miniature sea that stands between the altar and the tent (30:18). In the temple it is actually called the “sea” (1 Kgs. 7:23). The priests are required to wash their hands and feet before going into the tent and before offering the sacrifices on the altar on pain of death (30:20-21). This is part of what Jesus’ foot washing at the last supper meant: Jesus is preparing his disciples for sanctuary-service, and he commands them to go and do likewise (Jn. 13:3-17).
Oil of Anointing (Day 4)
On “day four” God made the great lights and placed them in the firmament. These great lights are rulers, and they are meant to symbolize God’s own glory and rule. Likewise, oil is associated with rule, and oil makes a man’s face bright and shine like the lights of heaven. This oil is used to anoint the tabernacle and all of its utensils and furniture (30:25-28). This is also the oil used to anoint Aaron and his sons (30:30).
Incense (Day 5)
“Day five” is all about filling the skies and seas, and here it describes the incense that God requires the priests to offer before him. It is “most holy,” and this is related to the fact that it is offered “before the Testimony” (30:36-38). Throughout Scripture, incense is associated with prayer (e.g. Ps. 141:2, Rev. 5:8, 8:3-4); prayer ought to fill and permeate our lives. It ought to stick to us and in our clothes like a scent that is hard to shake.
The Spirit and the Artisans (Day 6)
Just as God breathed the breath of life into man on the sixth day of creation (Gen. 2:7), so too, the Spirit is given to Bezalel and Aholiab (31:4). This is the same Spirit of God that hovered over the waters at the dawn of creation (Gen. 1:1). This Spirit of creation is wisdom and creativity in their hearts (31:6). This Spirit and the wisdom given to these artisans is for following the commands of Yahweh (31:6, 11, cf. Gal. 5:16ff). This is what true creativity is: it takes the pattern-commands of God and implements them in beautiful ways in the world.
Sabbath Reminder (Day 7)
As the first creation week ended with Sabbath, so too, God reminds Moses/Israel that this new world must include the original creation pattern. The Sabbath is a sign to Israel that they might know that it is Yahweh who sanctifies them (31:13). Israel is to guard this time just like they guard the other holy things of God (31:14). The Sabbath observance is the covenant between God and his people (31:16). We rest as the Creator rests (31:17). The Sabbath is a call to live like God does, create like God does, and be “refreshed” like He is (31:17, cf. Gen. 2:7).
Conclusions & Applications
One of the central points that the Bible always returns to when it describes creation is the word of God. God spoke and the world came into being (Gen. 1); creation is the word of God emblazoned for all to see, for all to hear (Ps. 19); all that exists is upheld and sustained by God’s word (Jn. 1). God can and does create by fiat, but part of the image of God in man is His design that we respond to His word, listen to His word, trust His word, wrestle with His word, love His word, and learn to talk back. This is how the light of God’s word shines into our hearts; this is how God’s new creation takes place in our lives for the sake of the whole world.